This time of year there’s always a bunch of ‘Best of’ lists popping up across the blogosphere. I love reading these pieces and seeing my favourite media items celebrated, perhaps discovering what I might have missed. In the past, there usually hasn’t been many titles. Not in 2016. Looking at how few of the movies, TV shows and books featured on these ‘Best of’ lists I’ve engaged with reminds me how busy I’ve been. So it goes.
Because of this lack of media consumption I don’t feel qualified offering my own ‘Best of’ list this year. Instead, I’ll run through a few of my favourite things of 2016. Chances are you’re familiar with most of these titles but maybe one or two might have slipped beneath your radar. In which case, enjoy.
My Favourite TV of 2016
I watched too much television this year. Part of this is because I spent most of my free time exhausted and unable to pick myself up from the couch, and part of this is due to the unfairly high-quality television in general. We truly are living in a golden age of the medium. Interestingly, 99% of the television I watched this year was from on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, ABC iView, SBS on Demand and HBO Now. Not Foxtel. I find the idea of payTV that also makes you watch commercials repellant and borderline criminal. That said, I haven’t seen a commercial in a long time and don’t expect I’ll be watching many in 2017. This is a good thing.
GIRLS. There probably isn’t a more frustrating character on TV than Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath but I couldn’t tear myself away from watching her and her friends navigate (often poorly) the turbulent waters of mid-20’s-dom.
BETTER CALL SAUL. Will I lose credibility if I suggest this show is better than BREAKING BAD? Screw it – it is.
GAME OF THRONES. Obviously. *The Battle of the Bastards* is the most thrilling piece of action on the big or small screen this year. Also, ‘Hold the door’ is just perfect storytelling brilliance.
FLEABAG. No other show has managed to swing so deftly from comedy to tragedy in the space of a single scene. I hope there’s a Season 2 coming.
HIGH MAINTENANCE. A small wonder. Hilarious, touching, unpredictable. So much more than its logline suggests: A nameless cannabis delivery guy delivers his much-needed medication to stressed-out New Yorkers.
LOVE. It would be reductive to compare creator/star Paul Rust to Woody Allen but there is definitely some of the elder filmmaker’s DNA running through this story of neurotic and self-involved L.A thirty-somethings. Gillian Jacobs, in particular, gives a brilliant performance of a thoroughly broken person.
WESTWORLD. Is it as good as GAME OF THRONES? No. But it’s the closest thing to must-watch event television since HBO’s fantasy behemoth. Also, the most challenging, not to mention upsetting, examination of gender politics I watched this year.
STRANGER THINGS. This nostalgia-infused combination of Stephen King and Spielberg feels like it was designed specifically for me. Judging by its hugely successful reception I’m not the only one.
ASH VS EVIL DEAD. It didn’t manage to stick the landing but no show made me grin as much. Bring on Season 3!
My Favourite Movies of 2016
I didn’t get to the cinema as much as I would have liked this year so apologies for the brevity of this list. For what it’s worth, I did see most of the superhero films released and mildly enjoyed most of them except for BATMAN VS SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD which were both objectively terrible.
THE LOBSTER. Not enough people are talking about this miracle of a film. What starts off as surreal farce evolves into something quietly devastating. Easily the best movie I watched this year and both Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz deserve awards recognition.
SWISS ARMY MAN. Frustratingly close to genius. At times it feels like the filmmakers are discovering a new cinematic language. There are sequences in this movie of genuine profundity. There are also a lot of fart jokes. The first will make you laugh, the last will make you cry.
HUSH. Mike Flannagan is my favourite horror director currently working. With HUSH, ABSENTIA, and OCULUS he’s three-for-three in my book. This Netflix original feels almost Hitchcockian in its elegant simplicity.
THE INVITATION. The best psychological thriller I’ve watched in years. Just thinking about this movie makes me anxious. Incredibly powerful and deeply melancholic.
ROGUE ONE. Better than THE FORCE AWAKENS. It’s a little too long and too messy but I love the way this slots so perfectly with A NEW HOPE. Also, Darth Vader rules.
My Favourite Video Games of 2016
I bought a PS4 this year. Not exactly the wisest move for a terminally time-poor guy struggling to balance a family life, advertising career, and side-line as a novelist. Still, I don’t regret the purchase. I wouldn’t call myself a gamer now but I enjoy the time I spend with the blinking blue box beneath my TV. It doesn’t feel like time wasted. Interestingly, it’s the social aspect of gaming that appeals to be the most. Being a parent of young children can be quite isolating. Logging on to a multiplayer game with some friends and sharing some laughs isn’t the same as catching up at the pub but it’s better than nothing.
LIMBO. Just like Hollywood, I discovered that the most artistically challenging stuff in the gaming world is happening on the fringes. The art direction is sublime, but it’s the existential angst that the story evokes which makes LIMBO resonate.
TOMB RAIDER. An exciting and beautifully designed adventure game with a surprisingly nuanced and vulnerable Lara Croft. I enjoyed this far more than UNCHARTED.
ALIEN ISOLATION. The stuff of nightmares. Please understand how highly I hold this game as a piece of entertainment when I say, that it sits comfortably on the shelf next to ALIEN and ALIENS.
TITANFALL 2. Thrilling and perfectly constructed, no other game made me feel like I was the star of a Paul Verhoeven 80’s sci-fi action film.
My Favourite Books of 2016
Alas, I did not read as much as I would have liked to this year. With my energy levels at an all time low (due to extended children-related sleep deprivation) it was easier to engage with the screen than the page.
ASK THE DUST. John Fante’s thinly designed memoir of his time as a struggling writer in Great Depression-era L.A. is just as vital and compelling as when it was first published in 1939.
PURITY. My least favourite Jonathan Franzen novel but that’s not saying much considering both THE CORRECTIONS and FREEDOM are two of the best books I’ve ever read. Pip’s journey wasn’t terribly compelling but the story of her parents’ unhealthy relationship and the delicious melodrama of the Andreas Wolf passages is enough for me to recommend this doorstop of a book.
THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. My favourite book of the year. There are sentences in this book that are among the most beautiful I’ve ever read. Bradbury doesn’t recognise there’s a line between prose and poetry and we readers are all the luckier for it.
CLOUD ATLAS. I picked up CLOUD ATLAS after seeing the Wachowski’s criminally underrated film. A Russian nesting doll of a novel, it is at once an examination of the human condition, a joyful celebration of genre and a deeply sincere, not to mention timely, testament to the power of empathy.
My Absolute Most Favourite Thing of 2016
And finally, we come to the best thing that happened to me in 2016. Her name is India Jacqueline Hearle and she was born on October 30th (not quite a Halloween baby but close enough for me to have horror-themed birthday parties until she’s old enough to protest). She is beautiful, ill-tempered, suspicious, and when she smiles everything in the world seems right and good.